We Happy Few seems like it might have something to say about psychotropic medications. Its protagonist lives in a retro-British world where everyone takes a drug called Joy to take away the horror of reality and replace it with happy fantasy. It’s only when he skips his dose of Joy that the game can begin.
But does We Happy Few really want you to go off your meds, as this Kill Screen article muses?
The sleek mid-century design, though—like the porcelain masks worn by Wellington Wells residents—is hiding something more sinister underneath: big slogans on walls say things like “Happy is the country that has no history” and “it’s never too late to have a happy past,” and the Kickstarter page vaguely hints that in order to survive the German Occupation of Britain during WWII, “the Wellies all had to do A Very Bad Thing.” As a result, much like in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World, people in the world of We Happy Few are kept in line with a drug, in this case straightforwardly called Joy.
Joy plays an integral role in We Happy Few, and it serves as a regular reminder that without a chemical assistant, the player cannot fit into this society. The player’s main goal is to escape this society and never take Joy again—the way it meddles with emotions is sinister and hides darkness and brutality. But the decade that gave us Brave New World also brought such innovations to the treatment of mental illness as electroconvulsive therapy and the lobotomy, so it’s safe to say that our perspectives on mental heath have changed since then. According to the World Health Organization, we know that one in four people on Earth will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives and two-thirds of people with mental illness never seek professional help.
Daniel Fries shares several solid insights in the article before coming to the conclusion that, from what we’ve seen, it seems impossible to divorce We Happy Few from our understanding of mental health. But is Joy an easy analog to antidepressants? Or is there more going on underneath that slick, disturbing surface?
For now, we can only hope that its message is more nuanced than ‘medication is bad,’ but we’ll know more soon — We Happy Few arrives on Microsoft Game Preview and Steam Early Access on July 26th.